Tag Archives: diet

Cheat days, sucky diets, and how to end the struggle between fun and fat loss.

buddybinges

A client recently asked me about cheat days. Is a scheduled day of eating whatever we want, with abandon, a helpful thing or a bad thing? So I shook those ideas around in my head awhile. My initial thought was no no no, don’t do a cheat day. And I rattled off a list to myself of reasons:

Because saying that you’re cheating makes you feel like you screwed up, even if you gave yourself permission to eat things that don’t support your nutrition goals if eaten too often or in large quantities. 

Because cheat days or even cheat meals often lead to overindulgence, tummy aches, bad feelings, and may yank us right out of the calorie range we were intending to manage our weight.

Because cheat days can reinforce a restricting and binging cycle that derails progress and feels miserable.

Because when you really think about it, are there really “good” and “bad” foods? Perhaps there are less emotionally-loaded terms to describe more and less nutritious food. 

Because looking at our nutrition management as something we turn on or off might rob us of an opportunity to develop a happier relationship with the food that we eat. 

When we unpack these observations, we reveal complicated ideas about the psychology of eating behaviors. They show us how easy it is to feel conflicted and burdened by managing how we eat on a daily basis. In short, we ascribe way too much moral value to how we eat. And that screws with us.

Our awareness of them matters. But I think what most people really want to know is far simpler:

How do I achieve my aesthetic/performance/health goals while still getting to eat the things that might make nailing those goals more challenging?

In other words…

Is there a way to have fun and still be a lean, healthy, and sexy motherfucker?

whynotboth

It’s the conflict: the wanting of two things that sometimes appear incongruent.

But maybe they’re not exactly incompatible: we just have to learn to mesh them in ways that help us get where we want to be with both our health goals as well as our fun goals.

A few issues typically arise when we’re dieting:

  1. I’m so honnnngry.
  2. All the stuff I crave is the stuff that I feel like I can’t have.
  3. I’m tired of thinking about this and want to relax ffs.
  4. I don’t know how to eat just one cookie. I feel out of control unless I’m 100% “on”.

Let’s work on each of these:

I want to eat all the things. My diet sucks.
Hunger is such a drag. Yet if we’re operating in a calorie deficit to lose weight, some hunger is normal. That doesn’t make it any less irksome.

Hunger isn’t always a terrible thing: we won’t immediately implode if we feel that gnawing sensation. But if we constantly have to fight it, we’re more likely to give up on dieting as well as find ourselves overindulging when we just can’t even anymore. If you’re always hungry, make sure you’re doing a few big things:

  1. Get more protein, yo: packing more protein into meals and snacks curbs hunger. Fat is said to do the same thing, but personally I’ve found that higher protein meals coupled with fiber-rich carbs do the job smashingly well.
  2. Choosing whole foods most of the time. Yeah, processed meals are convenient. And remember, no foods are “bad”. But if they make it harder to stay full, choosing fewer highly refined, “fluffy” foods and more filling fruits, veggies, and lean proteins will make you less hangry.
  3. Stashing a few secret weapon snacks in your arsenal for days when you feel extra hungry. Sometimes we’re hungry because we’re bored, stressed, tired, or just need extra fuel. That doesn’t change the fact that we wanna eat. Try waiting for just a bit before you decide to eat: sometimes the feeling passes. Still need food in your belly but you know you’ve already had quite a bit of food for the day? Don’t starve yourself. Instead, start with some “low impact” foods: a few of my favorites are flavored seltzer water, egg white crepes, air-popped popcorn, fresh berries, and pickles. They also seem to satisfy cravings – fizzy, savory, sweet, or salty.

I have to get all these whole foods like veggies and lean protein into my days which leaves, like, no room for margaritas and tacos. My diet sucks.
First of all, how lean are you already? Going from healthy to shredded requires some additional skills and mindset that we’ll get to. But for most people who start out overweight, it’s easier than you’d think to make room for some “fun” stuff. And I’ll get to teaching you how in a second. But first ask yourself this:

Think about what you can add to your plates instead of what you have to take away. 

When we begin to try new foods that are both fat loss friendly and actually taste good to us, it’s easier to become excited about developing healthier habits. Instead of struggling to avoid things we want, if we get lots of foods that we like yet still do a bang up job of meeting our health needs, it’s mentally easier at first. Then we want more of them, because we notice that we feel better. Soon, we find that we’re jonesing for junk food less often. This takes time. But it will happen.

On the days when I still want some of those big treats that don’t easily fit into my plan, I use a few key tactics you can snag for yourself:

  1. if you know you are going to have that margarita and taco, load up on mostly filling veggies and lean protein earlier in the day, eating enough to not hurl yourself into that meal already feeling ravenous. Vacations, special dinners, and other outings give you the opportunity to both relax and practice alternative strategies for having fun while still eating in a way that serve your long-term goals.
  2. If you really need a “mental health” day with less monitoring of your intake, you can eat a bit less on the days surrounding the event. I see it as creating balance instead of going “off program”. I’ve never had a free for all because I never felt like I needed one. No food was off limits. I didn’t feel guilty for eating cake or pizza. Sure, I might have mused that I would enjoy some more of it, but I didn’t spiral out of control because going off plan from time to time was always part of the plan.

We begin to have fun and eat in a way that helps us rock our goals. And over time, we develop habits that are neither completely focused on nutrition nor lead us to eat like a frat boy on a bender. We hang out in a mentally healthier middle ground.

Lean A.F.
When you get to a place where you’re already at a healthy body weight yet want to diet your way down to “super lean” you have a lot less wiggle room for “yolo” meals and days, depending on what timeline you have set for your goals. Figure competitors, bodybuilders, or just people who have dreams of a particular bod for themselves may encounter this issue. That’s fine. But at this point, I think it’s helpful to ask yourself if it’s worth it.

What’s your “happy” weight? Is it sustainable? Is it worth it to you to keep yourself on a tight leash in order to get dem abz?

There’s really no right answer. However, during the period in which I started leaning out hard just to see if I could do it, my mindset played a pivotal role in the choices I made. Still, there is room for moderation. I recall Sohee Lee’s piece on her own figure competition prep, when she ate a Snicker’s bar every day to prove a point: there’s no reason to completely deny yourself foods that you enjoy. You’ll end up sticking with your plans a hell of a lot longer and be less likely to binge yourself into oblivion.

I feel like gatherings are no longer about gatherings and instead I have to go in with a damn rulebook in order to just hang at dinner. And then I eat something less than spectacular while my buddies are pounding wings and chugging beers like they have not a care in the world about it. My diet sucks.
This is the reason that days of not tracking are a good thing. Coming to a place where we don’t view ourselves as being “on” or “off” is pretty damn important. We can begin to relax and yet still pay attention to how full we feel. We can eat nachos and stop when we’ve had enough. And we can eat things that nourish our bodies most of the time: we will know that on those days when we want to kick back and not think so hard, we’ll have put money in the bank towards long term weight management.

My colleagues and I gathered at The Fitness Summit last weekend. We all drank a lot more than we normally do. We ate a lot of bbq and cookies. But we all knew that on Monday morning we’d be back to the usual. And these occasions, for most of us, are not a frequent thing. As a result, they don’t matter even a little in the grand scheme of our body composition.

I do so well all week long and then I lose control.
You’re not alone. Be kind to yourself. Learning to balance food as pleasure and purpose is a skill that we have to practice.

Most often I see this occur with people who restrict themselves most severely. The people who come in with pre-conceived ideas about foods they should and shouldn’t eat seem more likely to go off the rails because they work so hard at being perfect all week long.

Maybe Sohee’s daily Snickers trial would be good for many of us – what would we experience if we took the edge off of cravings or if we took the label of “ilicit” off of a food? If we know that we can most likely fit some of it into our lives whenever we want, would we be less likely to go overboard?

For some, there will always be foods that seem to be really hard to moderate. Sometimes it’s okay to put controls on how often and how much of them you put on your path. That’s okay too. I’m looking at you, homemade coconut brown butter cookies.

So to summarize: cheating on a diet? Nah. If we see our nutrition as part of our overall lives and take away some of the power of food to dictate our worth, we don’t need to cheat. We just live our lives, with both health and pleasure as part of the big picture. Our ideal health has room for all the reasons that we sit down to a meal.

Want to keep learning more about how to successfully manage your own goals for fat loss, fitness, and overall health? Fill in that box below and become part of my insider list. You’ll get exclusive access to workouts, recipes, and tutorials in my free newsletter.

 

 

 

Dangerous dieting: the lessons I learned from 10 days of rapid fat loss.

rapid fat loss title pic

I lost 6 pounds in 10 days.

That’s right. If this makes you lean in and want to find out how, well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I’ll tell you how I did it. The bad news is that if you try it you’ll feel absolutely horrible, you’ll learn that it’s probably not wise, sustainable, nor necessary, and you will probably have some strong thoughts on what I did by the time you reach the end of this article.

But you’re still reading, so I’ll share more.

Lightning-quick fat loss is the magical, elusive unicorn of our diet culture. We want fat loss and we want it fast. After all, dieting for a long time sucks.

I think by now many of us know that crash dieting is not the wisest path to lasting weight management. Yet many of us, in some dusty corner of our brain, still hold out hope that there’s something missing that will make fat loss happen more quickly. And with fewer days of feeling hungry.

Well, kids, you can lose weight faster. It’s called a crash diet. Crash diets take many forms, and while most are merely ineffectual for the long run, some are actually dangerous. The bulk of them are basically a bad idea for the vast majority of people.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a moderate approach to fat loss is both more enjoyable as well as sustainable than resorting to extremes. For nearly all of my days cutting over 100 pounds of weight, I have enjoyed eating pretty much all of the things I have wanted – just in smaller quantities and with a much heavier priority of incorporating lean protein and whole foods into my diet.

But what about when you want to get really shredded? I mean visible abs, lean-and-mean shredded. As my own body settled into a place with relatively low body fat, I noticed that weight loss really slows down even while on a deficit. That was my sign that I needed to be done for a while: maybe even forever. Months spent dieting is hard on our hormones. It was definitely time for a diet break. But first, an idea gnawed at me.

You see, in my own dusty corner of my brain, I can still appreciate looking lean. And you know what? That’s okay. As my vacation to Jamaica approached, I imagined how I might rock a bikini if I got shredded – the way a bikini competitor does – for just a few days: just long enough to feel smokin’ on the beach. Yeah, I know: there is no such thing as a bikini body. I agree with this idea. Yet I’ve had visible abs almost no days of my life, because I really, really love pizza. And that’s cool too. However, I was still curious: what would it be like to have some abzzz?

At the same time, I wondered if it would be helpful to understand what it’s really like to dramatically lean out short term for an event like a bodybuilding competition or a powerlifting meet, when lifters cut weight temporarily to strategically land at the top of their desired weight class.

First of all, note that I said “short term”. The ripped models you see on stages and magazine covers don’t walk around looking like that year round. And as you’ll soon learn, using this method sets most people up for months of frustration.

But I’d already talked myself into a plan after reading Lyle McDonald’s manual, Rapid Fat Loss. I’d do it for science! And journalism. Plus for aesthetics, of course. If nothing else, I’d have a hell of a story. I pitched the idea to my own coach, Jordan Syatt, who probably thought I was nuts. He never advocates this diet for his own clients but he gave me the green light, having been through the process himself at one point and knowing I’d likely learn something from the experience. Jordan also knew enough to be able to monitor me so I could do my experiment safely. As he gave me permission to proceed with my crazy project, he chuckled at my folly.

“You’re going to feel terrible”.

In my mind, my coach had just thrown the gauntlet to me. Surely he had no idea of my mental fortitude. I swore inwardly that I wouldn’t complain to him, not even once. After all, struggling to lean out for ripped abs rests upon the mountain top of first world problems.

How my fat loss diet worked:
There are various forms of a very low calorie diet (VLCD), many of which have been studied under controlled conditions for hospital-based studies. The Rapid Fat Loss Diet is a protein-sparing modified fast (PSMF) that places an emphasis on protein consumption to theoretically retain as much muscle as possible while losing fat.

McDonald theorizes that when you eliminate carbohydrates and fats for fuel and rely only on protein, your body then more effectively burns fat by using existing fat stores to get energy. Beyond McDonald’s extensive research, several studies exist to support the efficacy of the strategies McDonald uses. There are limitations, however, that many don’t consider. I wonder how results would play out among more seasoned athletes. Most studies of this kind are done with overweight or untrained subjects. Perhaps most critically, we need to remember that while theories may hold water, they don’t account for human behavior and emotional needs. Before you get excited and even entertain the idea of trying a VLCD, learn what I experienced.

For my 10 day period, my daily calorie target was between 600 kcal and 700 kcal. My protein goal was at least 130 g daily, which left me with little more than some spinach for carbs. What I quickly found was that nothing sucks the joy out of eating like having little more than meat and eggs to eat each day. My one bowl of plain Greek yogurt topped with Walden Farms calorie-free syrup became my holy grail of desserts. I finally understood how people doing an intense fat cut for a bikini competition become enthusiastic about protein mug cakes: I made several. They tasted vaguely of cocoa and not of meat, so I became momentarily grateful. How quickly I had fallen away from my culinary and dietary dogma that boiled down roughly to “make mostly healthy shit that tastes great. And always eat real dessert”.

Dear Diary…

Day 1
When I began the fast, I mostly felt hungry and a little depressed about having to miss out on my favorite foods for the coming week or so. On day 1, my energy was fine. But by the end of the day, I was so hungry that I balled my fists in frustration. I ate my bowl of spinach and tuna and distracted myself with Netflix. I’d already found that social media was a bad idea, as it was brimming with recipes for beautiful food that I couldn’t eat. Screw you, Instagram.

Day 3
My energy was now waning, though with careful timing, I made it through my workout. My coach warned me that I’d likely not be able to complete all of my sets and that this was okay. I left the gym feeling a bit smug. My bench press wasn’t even weak. Victory! By now, my hunger had diminished – that was a bit unexpected given my low intake, though on other fat loss phases I’d observed that my hunger adjusted to lower calorie intake fairly quickly. I stumbled upon a few silver linings too as I discovered that egg whites scrambled with cinnamon and stevia become pretty tasty when topped with PB2. Maybe this diet wouldn’t be so terrible after all.

Day 5
I looked at my husband with a mixture of sadness and disgust while he devoured an orange beside me, and he merely urged me to give up. I then sullenly pointed out that he was a super unsupportive jerk, deeply inhaled the scent of the fruit, and huffed off to the living room. An orange would definitely be the first thing I ate after finishing my fantastically dumb diet.

Day 6
I became very tired… a kind of fatigue that I could feel deep within my bones. I couldn’t imagine having to go work outside my home full time while doing a VLCD. Unlike many, I had the luxury of doing most of my work from my house, and more frequently this week, from my sofa or bed. This was the day that I could begin to feel the crushing weight of the world fall upon my chest in the afternoon. I wasn’t even hungry most of the time, and yet I could barely muster the energy to do anything past 12 pm. Teaching my evening class became a Herculean effort.

Day 7
I sent out a newsletter to my followers. My coach read it and replied, asking me if I’d written my recent emails hastily. I asked him why. I could tell Jordan was politely informing me that my work was suffering. He noted that I’d made quite a few glaring grammatical errors, which are completely out of character for me. I normally catch everything or at least take the time to scour my writing before I shout it out to the world. My mind was foggier than a day in London town. I just sighed and went to bed after eating a tiny bowl of sugar-free Jello. Yes, this was my new daily dessert. And let me tell you, on a VLCD, that stuff is jiggly gold.

Day 8
This day was my lowest point on the VLCD. Jordan emailed me, concerned about my welfare. I caved, breaking my vow to remain steely in the midst of my difficult yet completely self-imposed discomfort. My reply included a torrential downpour of strongly worded sentiments about how truly awful and stupid this diet really was. My coach always wins. Always. Damnit. On Day 8 I cried. For no good reason. I was exhausted, emotional, and mad about nothing in particular other than feeling like a train wreck. Yet with only 2 more whole days to go, I wasn’t stopping. I rolled around listlessly in my bed for a few minutes and then dozed off, leaving my work for the next day.

Day 9
My attitude shifted. I was nearly at the finish line and somehow it all felt more doable. Perhaps the emotional breakdown from day 8 was cathartic; I have no idea. My workout was so unproductive it was comical. I could barely lift the bar to bench press. I wandered around aimlessly and then trudged back up the stairs and drove straight home to my bed. In retrospect, I don’t think I lost any measurable strength but my body was completely carb deprived and my mind was utterly unfocused. There was no way I was going to have a good gym session. Lesson: carbs are really important for both gym performance and life.

Day 10
Hell yeah, I was nearly there. I began fantasizing about what food I would eat first. I felt surprised that I didn’t think about pounding down some donuts or a burger. All I craved was a bowl of oatmeal and one perfect piece of fruit. I breezed through this day as I saw the end point firmly within my grasp.

beautiful orange

Breaking the Fast
The alarm sounded for my 4 a.m. wakeup call. I climbed out of bed and headed straight to the kitchen, where I peeled my beautiful, perfect orange and savored every bite. Then I took a picture of my leaned out bod, preserving it for posterity.

Jamaican Me Crazy
The idea of dealing with an all-inclusive resort after being on a crash diet flooded me with unease. Would I binge? I went in with a plan, and I ended up doing just fine on that front. Unfortunately, I also caught E. coli on my beach vacation, which both curbed my opportunities to overindulge and bloated me to hell and back. My leaned out midsection ended up being even more short-lived than I had imagined.

bloated

If that’s not some kind of cosmic injustice, I don’t know what is. After recovering from the infection, my appetite returned with a vengeance. There are tales everywhere of figure competitors who binge themselves into oblivion after a show. I can now understand why. I was ridiculously hungry and craved all of the carbs. Thankfully, I both had the wisdom to know I should keep my eating moderated and a coach to support me. Still, I went on a cooking bender of epic proportions. I just fed most of it to friends and family. I baked my ass off in a feverish frenzy that I still can’t quite explain. My Instagram feed had never looked more delicious.
instagod

In the end, I did indeed lose 6 pounds… but for only a few days. It’s crucial to understand that I didn’t shed all that much fat: I lost a fair amount of water from carb depletion. After you eat those energy-boosting carbs again, your scale weight will increase once more.
As for my final result? After the dust settled from my trip and illness, I found my scale weight was back to right where it was resting when I began my crazy, awful, no good, very bad diet. And that’s what one should expect. Because in reality, diets like these aren’t meant for real, lasting change. At best, a seasoned pro can use them to manipulate their physique or scale weight for a day or two. But at what cost?

Yes, there is a cost.
The costs of crash dieting are real. First of all, you’ll feel miserable while doing these diets. You will lose muscle mass as well as lose valuable time that you could spend banking up improvements in the gym. Moreover, the behaviors that many people display following an extreme fat cut make crash dieting counterproductive to the point of them rarely being worthwhile. It’s very typical to see figure competitors binge their way to becoming heavier than they were before they leaned out dramatically. On the flip side, people can develop really disordered thinking about food, becoming fearful of eating. I didn’t binge or restrict food because I have a good deal of experience with weight management as well as eating disorders.

My coach also monitored me every step of the way, yet still had to help me work through a little mental anxiety after it was all done. Some of those feelings actually did arise in me. And that surprised me. Most people don’t have my background, and so the prospect of encouraging someone to follow a diet like this makes me even more uneasy after I’ve been through the process myself.

So don’t resort to extreme dieting. Just don’t. If you have a vision of yourself that you want to see for an event, that’s alright. But make a plan that doesn’t include the risks I mentioned. It is absolutely doable to lose body fat while enjoying your life. Even when you’re already quite lean – I’ll use my client “B” as an example. (She’s shy about using her real name so let’s just call her that.)

B, a 34 year old mom of 2, has a wicked sense of humor and is one of the smartest, coolest women I have ever known. In my eyes, B has always looked like a million bucks. But she came to me wanting to lean out and get some definition for a few special events next summer. She also wanted to finally get started with consistent strength training as well as honing in her nutrition.

In roughly 8 weeks, B made rock star progress, losing 11 pounds while taking 2.5 inches off her waist and an inch off her hips. She took pleasure in seeing her muscle definition begin to appear. She also learned to deadlift, squat, and went from 0 chin ups to 2. B She blew my socks off with the giant strides she made in her fitness in such a short time.
.clientB

Here is what B did to get there:

-Ate at a caloric deficit LESS than 500 kcal under her maintenance calories. Her deficit was actually one of the most modest I’ve given to anyone.
-Lifted weights 3 times per week and did a few days each week of light conditioning work.
-Cooked most of her meals at home.
-Developed consistency: this was her key to such rapid success. She followed her program 99% of the time. But it was easier to do because none of it was drudgery for her.

In short, B had passion and drive that went far in fueling her consistency. Yet she did absolutely nothing extreme to get those results. I completely promise you that you’ll reach your goals without needing to do a miserable crash diet: plus the reward of taking it slower is worth the patience – you’ll gain skills that will help you sustain your physique for life.

Looking to learn exactly how you can build strength and get lean for life? Become an insider below and I’ll send you my e-book, Fat Loss on a Budget, in a flash. It’s free!

 

One Crazy Trick: What We Can Learn from Fad Diets, Detoxes, and MLM Insanity

magicpillsMy friends who have known me for a while are aware that I know a thing or two about getting fit. Not because I’m a personal trainer. They’ve seen my transformation first hand: I’ve been through the process of adopting fitness as a lifestyle.

I was over 200 pounds and inactive. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being 200 pounds, by the way. But on my frame, I didn’t feel good at this weight. I was clinically obese. I wasn’t very active, I didn’t have much energy, my joints hurt, and I felt bleh.

My friends and family watched me complete my first Olympic triathlon, get my first heavy-ass deadlift, and pack on some sweet looking muscle. They have seen my body completely transform and also have witnessed a big change in my overall mood and self confidence.

So when friends still come to me asking about the latest MLM (that’s multi-level marketing) crash diet plan or other quick fix they heard about on Dr. Oz, it makes me die inside a little bit. Or at least want to bang my head against my desk.

computer-head-slam

My first instinct has been frustration and maybe a bit of annoyance. After all, I’ve been preaching my interpretation of healthy behavior change. At times I have behaved like a preacher, as if I could be on a street corner with a big book called CONSISTENCY that I’d wave around fervently as I spread the good word of moderation and habit formation.

pensatucky

We’re really talking about fat loss here, first of all. I rarely see MLM schemes marketed to people seeking better cardiovascular health and improved coordination or athletic performance. Most people want to look better naked. There’s nothing wrong with aesthetic goals, though coming to a place where our self worth isn’t defined by our size is a huge step in personal growth. But successful, long-term weight management is something I’ve experienced. My friends know this. So why do some still look for the quick fix or the new promise of a special solution?

As an industry, fit pros are missing out on an opportunity to serve all of the people who are currently doing nothing. We cluck our tongues at people trying out these fad diets yet we aren’t listening to why people throw their money at them. It’s time to consider changing our approach.

Why Fitness Professionals Hate MLMs, Detoxes, and Magic Pills.
I won’t launch into a tirade on MLMs here. Others have explained the fallacy of MLM supplements and predatory practices associated with them. But in short, we dislike all of these products for a few basic reasons:

  • Supplements are often little more than cheap protein powder, which you could buy for much less cost at a number of different places. Often, the quality of protein is inferior to products that cost less.
  • Many of the supplements are “fat burners”, “energy drinks” and so on that are basically expensive pee. They’re vitamins, herbs, or caffeine that do absolutely nothing to actually help you lose fat. But the placebo effect is real, and people believe that the supplements are doing all the work.
  • Most of these products come with the caveat “works with a healthy diet and exercise”.  Often the accompanying program includes a very restrictive diet that people follow.  Basically, you’re losing fat with them because you created a caloric deficit. This drives us bonkers.
  • All of these plans are unsustainable for the long term. I’m looking at you, 21 Day Fix, Whole 30, and (insert most every other program here). Eventually, you are going to start eating bread/potatoes/other calorically dense foods again.
  • These plans don’t teach you anything about how fat loss actually works. Once you end the plan, you’re back to square one again.

What Can We Learn?
Talking to each other about how much we loathe these products does absolutely nothing to help the people who need the most help. These are folks who have often tried “sensible” solutions in the past. Most likely, they needed a little more support and understanding about what realistic changes look and feel like. They weren’t there yet. It takes a lot of time and patience to find sustainable change.

They’re seeking: all of the people who come at them with their stories of their progress and how it comes so effortlessly are pretty damn appealing. They hear it from people who seem to have some kind of authority, like Dr. Oz, and from friends who have recently dropped a ton of weight. And the people selling the programs are so freaking happy and enthusiastic. They are cheerleaders. They also play into people’s insecurities, feed them just a little, and then offer them a neat and tidy package of fixing it. Yuck. But it’s sneaky, and it works. It’s also more specific. The conventional wisdom of “eat less, move more” teaches us nothing about how to accomplish those things.

The tactics of these companies make me a little sick. But they have also addressed factors that fitness professionals often refuse to acknowledge. We don’t all share the same education, outlook, and goals. We need to understand why people look to these sources in the first place.

oprahliquiddiet

The Case of the Liquid Diet
One of my best girlfriends knows me well enough to suspect that a new crazy plan was probably a terrible idea. We all still remember Oprah’s disaster from the 1980’s. Still, my friend brought the product to my attention. “Help talk me out of this,” she begged. Her co-worker was raving about a liquid diet that had allowed her to drop 25 lbs in a month. Sure, much of it was probably water weight. No, it wasn’t going to last. I wanted to just shut that shit down. NO! Bad! But instead, I asked her more about it. Even knowing that it’s not a great idea for her health and long term success, why is this tempting?

She shared these thoughts:

I think for me the temptation lies in the fact that it’s a simple solution (meals/supplements planned and thought out for you) AND proven results with people I know. If I’m seeing a photo or seeing someone I know shrinking, I’m totally fascinated with how that’s happening. BUT that’s also how I feel now since I’m not super happy with my body. When I’m at more of my normal/ideal weight, I don’t pay much attention to how others have lost their weight at all. So it’s definitely psychological. And of course, I know it’s not sustainable either. But the lure of weight loss plus energy plus less meal planning plus NO exercise is totally appealing to the lazy bum in me.

And this:

I lost 100 pounds after I had my baby. It was quick though. I started doing yoga and it all just came off (and I also was dealing with a ton of stress and subsequent IBS). For me, I’ve never ever had to work to lose weight; I just find something I like to do and then the weight comes off. Watching my food intake has never been a necessity. I feel like the more I focus on my food, the more i gain (or at least eat). So for me the quick loss is enticing because struggling with my weight is a completely new thing.

It’s like I’m ok with restriction if that means I’ll have guaranteed, fast results. Also, no thinking. No work on my part. Quick fast results! It’s the American way. Forget about the fact that it’s terrible and unhealthy. The only thing right now that makes it appealing is the quick fix… I have an event in 4 weeks!
So out of this we can get a few big takeaways: 
  • Simply knowing that a plan is potentially unhealthy or unsustainable isn’t enough to dissuade people from trying something.
  • Quick results are highly motivating to many people.
  • Having to commit to both exercising and new eating habits can be overwhelming to people just starting out.
  • Having restriction in the form of meal plans or other rules can be attractive because it requires less planning and rewiring of multiple habits initially.
  • People are often driven by tangible results. Even if I believe that your progress of getting stronger, more resilient, and more consistent in your practice is more important than the size of your waistline, that might not motivate you. What’s the MOST motivating marker of progress? How can we track it?
 mlm
MLMing without the MLM?
Can we create an environment for ourselves that incorporates some of the appeal of these programs without the unneccessary cash expenditure and potentially dangerous practices? It’s possible that acknowledging and reinterpreting some of the insanity actually lead to better long term outcomes.
  • The idea of a challenge is overwhelmingly appealing to people. Can you create your own challenge? However, instead of making it based upon taking pills, what about a consistency challenge? I railed hard against challenges for a long time, but in doing so I ignored a truth: often, more significant early success breeds more success later on. I’m not just making that up, there’s emerging research that backs the theory. Initial greater weight loss can correlate to greater weight loss in the long term. 1
  • Put some skin in the game. Instead of a bogus shake, if you are motivated by a financial commitment, sign up for a fitness class, hire a nutritionist, or purchase sessions with a trainer. My friend believed that committing to the purchase would help her stick to the plan. This may or may not be relevant, but if you believe it will help, give it a go. 
  • Having a little more calorie restriction for an upcoming event isn’t the end of the world. It’s possible that you really don’t care about your long term results. More likely, it’s that the present need is emotionally more important to you. One month of behaving like someone getting ready for a figure competition isn’t always a terrible thing. However, excessively low calorie intake will backfire. Binging happens, shame ensues, and then we abandon ship. A more aggressive calorie range still needs to be healthy for your body.  Working with a dietitian rather than a Beachbody coach would be a good plan if you go this route. FYI: “coach” means they sell products, not that they have nutritional expertise. 
  • Give your plan rules and structure, but keep it simple. People crave structure. For the long term, I still believe that developing habits will breed the best success. Sustainable habits let us live healthy lives without having to measure food, calculate calories, and track data daily. But if you’re a newbie, that doesn’t happen over night. Having fewer things to choose initially may bring comfort and success.Examples of more structure may be having a calorie goal daily; a limit on alcoholic drinks; committing to 3 walks per week; temporarily keeping food out of the house that you can’t moderate (Oreos, holla).
  • Measure progress for a specific time period. For whatever period you choose, you’ll have pictures or measurements or whatever you want to use to chart.
  • Hate exercise? Put it off. At least for the short term. Work on nutrition first. When you’re ready, move a little more – think small, like walks around the neighborhood.  And then choose something new to try. People often become more open to healthy movement when it isn’t prescribed in large, grueling doses.  Then you can build from there.
  • Start reflecting on when and why you hit roadblocks. This is where MLMs fall flat. They know nothing about why you couldn’t stick with something before. They don’t know that every time you feel stressed out about work that you dive into cookies. They simply ban the cookies and don’t encourage the process of untangling your relationship with your body, your food, or your health.  Even if you’re doing a challenge for a month, take note of what’s easy and what’s hard. Why is it hard? This will bring more wisdom for your long term effort.
  • Grab a friend.  Many people doing fixes, cleanses, and challenges are doing them in a group. They have entire forums devoted to going through the process. Part of what attracts us to diets is almost religious – we have a church of diet, with a flock of true believers who will encourage us when we feel frustrated. Sure, it’s often really fucked up advice, but it’s community. Make your own community. Find a friend or 3 who want to commit to a similar change. You can even make your own amazing supplement  if you feel the need to have a special thing that you buy. #lifechanging #notreally #tastesgoodthough.

Here’s the recipe!

MAGICAL PROTEIN SHAKE OF MAGIC
1 scoop protein powder (Vanilla burns more fat. Just kidding, it’s only delicious.)
1 cup of milk (only organic milk from happy cows birthed in a nurturing environment- again, kidding – it doesn’t matter for nutrition).
1 handful of spinach (you won’t taste it, promise)
1/2 cup berries (yo, berries are good — and sweet.)
1 cup of ice cubes (frozen unicorn tears)

What’s the magic? It fills up your belly and gives you nutrients. And it doesn’t cost $300 a month. You also don’t have to sell it to your friends for an insanely inflated cost. That’s pretty damn magical to me.

unicornboy

Have you bought into fad diets before? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment below.

 

Notes:

  1. Jessica L. Unick, Rebecca H. Neiberg, Patricia E. Hogan, Lawrence J. Cheskin, Gareth R. Dutton, Robert Jeffery, Julie A. Nelson, Xavier Pi-Sunyer, Delia Smith West, Rena R. Wing. Weight change in the first 2 months of a lifestyle intervention predicts weight changes 8 years later. Obesity, 2015; 23 (7): 1353 DOI: 10.1002/oby.21112

Preparation is Everything – How Unemployment Helped Me Reach My Nutrition Goals

photo credit: taxcredits.net

What do frugal families and people who are skilled at managing their weight have in common? It hit me the other day as I saw a powerlifter friend on Facebook exclaim “chicken breasts are $1.97 a pound at Hy-Vee this week! Get it!”

They know that preparation is a cornerstone to success.

It took a challenging period in my life to give me the tools that have helped me nail my nutrition goals, both for weight loss and for performance.

In 2008, I was a stay-at-home mom with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. I remember standing at our kitchen counter making dinner when my husband came home from work. He looked like someone had died. “What’s wrong,” I joked. “Did you get fired?” In that instant I knew that ridiculous joke was actually a reality. The recession had hit, and he was the low man on the corporate totem pole. For the first time in his life, he lost his job.

We’d made the decision when our children were young that I would stay at home with them and delay my own career. It was a good life. We had enough, though I don’t think I appreciated it until we felt like we had lost it all.

Very quickly I shifted into survival mode. I had a history of depression and anxiety, but strangely I felt more focused than ever before: I had babies to protect. I got a part-time job so my husband could still collect unemployment and look for employment. We juggled new schedules. I had to learn new choreography for the daily dance of our lives.

Obligatory adorable baby pic because they’re all giants now.

A big part of getting by was cutting our food budget. I quickly learned the lesson that I still now lean on: preparation is everything. The big things I learned  still play a big role in how I handle my nutrition, and they allow my family to eat well without breaking the bank. (Although budgeting is getting tougher as my kids get older – they eat like a pack of starved wolves!)

Key Factors:

  • Menu Planning based on what key ingredients I already had in my stockpile

  • Grocery Shopping

  • Cooking Meals Ahead of Time for Busy Days


    Menu Planning
    Planning our weekly menu saves us money because I’m not constantly running to the store. Every trip I pick up extra stuff that I don’t always need. Planning also helps me stay on track with my nutrition goals. One lesson I’ve learned over the years is to be realistic with what I’m going to make for dinner. When I get too ambitious with my plan, it backfires and I sometimes don’t have the energy or desire to cook.

    When I plan my menu, I think about healthy meals that also incorporate food that’s on sale at the supermarket or that I may have on hand. This leads me to another skill I learned:

  • Stockpiling
    Stockpiling is a big practice among frugal people. It seemed a little extreme but it is actually a helpful way to make healthy cooking on a budget more doable. Having a chest freezer makes this a hell of a lot easier too.

    photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

    photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

    I began scanning the weekly grocery ads and when items were at a good price, I’d buy as many as I felt like I could afford. The first few months of this were tough because I didn’t yet have resources in my pantry and freezer. Meat was the main item I targeted for stockpiling. Meat can be really expensive, and I found that the difference between the regular sticker price and the sale price was often pretty large. Stockpiling meshes really well with the  next strategy:

    Freezing Meals for Later Use
    Freezing meals is another trick I picked up from the mommy brigade: I could either fully or partially prepare meals for later use and save both time and money. If I have to make marinade for chicken breasts, it doesn’t take me much longer to prepare a marinade for six batches of chicken than it does for one. Getting multiple meals out of 1 prep session kicks ass.

    I also found that preparing freezer meals saved me money beyond just having available ingredients that I’d stockpiled at a good price. How many times have you bought a bag of celery, only to use 2 stalks and have the rest of it go to waste? If I prepared several batches of a recipe, I made better use of the ingredients I had to buy to create it. Look for an article soon with more details for a  freezer meal how-to and recipes.

    mealprepmonday

     

    Bro Prep
    I later found that my dinner preparation was going well but I had really poor choices available for lunch. Have you ever seen the pics of weight lifters displaying their neat rows of meals in Tupperware for the week? I don’t think I could eat the same thing every day, but they’re on to something. Many fitness geeks do batch cooking of a main ingredient, like chicken, and have it on hand all week for salads, sandwiches, and whatever else sounds good. When they plan their meals, they also plan for breakfast and lunch and make sure that everything they might want is on hand.

    The Big Picture
    Most of the time, when I find myself eating food that doesn’t support my goals it’s because I’m caught without the food I need. I’m not talking about celebration meals or treats – those are important too and we need to incorporate them into our lives. But if we’re perpetually calling for take-out or nibbling on snacks because we have nothing in the house to make for lunch, the likely skill we must build is preparation.

    How to Get Better at Preparation 
    If you struggle with any of these habits, you can nail them. I promise! But habits like meal prep are actually skills that we have to learn. Pick one small habit, like planning a menu for a few days, and observe what went well and what needs work. Go from there, step by step.

    How has the skill of preparation impacted your own fitness journey, either positively or negatively? Have a tip or comment?Please share it in a comment!